Associated with Who You Hate
By Neil Sherman, HealthScoutNews Reporter
-- Who you are may be defined in part by who you hate, new research
shown that people create identity and self-esteem by associating
with -- or at least relating to -- groups or organizations they
view as positive. But your feelings about a group or organization
you reject may be equally important for how you view yourself,
we were interested in was how negative perceptions of an organization
or a company can cause people to work against that company --
not buy their product, boycott them, not work for them, or speak
out against them," says Kimberly Elsbach, formerly a professor
at Emory University and now with the University of California
at Davis. "And there's a theory -- social identification
-- that says that the groups or companies or friendship groups
we associate with help us to identify who we are.
I say I'm against the National Rifle Association [NRA], then that
defines me as a non-member and that identifies me as an individual,"
Elsbach explains. "So we used how people felt about the NRA
to look at how people identify themselves by who they 'disidentify'
her colleagues at Emory conducted three focus groups in metropolitan
Atlanta with a total of 27 people -- 11 men and 16 women -- "people
who said they saw themselves as separate or disconnected from
the NRA," she says. "And we choose the NRA, because
we wanted to make sure that we used a group that we knew people
would 'disidentify' with, and that could only happen with an organization
that espoused a well-known ideology."
She says her
findings could apply to other groups -- the American Civil Liberties
Union, for example -- from all across the political spectrum.
found the strongest negative feelings among the people who knew
the least about the NRA.
who have limited experience and exposure to the organization,
those who really don't have any personal experience of the organization,
or those who felt that the organization would hurt their reputation
with their friends, and people who feel like the values of the
organization conflict with their own, are most likely to 'disidentify'
with the NRA," Elsbach says.
they saw the NRA as a bunch of rednecks toting guns and they didn't
know anyone who belonged and they had no personal experience of
the organization," she says. "In fact, these people
tended to have a very narrowly defined, stereotypical view of
What was also
interesting about the finding, she adds, was that "people
did not necessarily have to have some personal negative experience
with an organization to 'disidentify.'"
fact, it was the very opposite -- they had no experience and that
suggests that the stereotype is the most important predictor of
'disidentification,'" she says.
knew something about the NRA had less strident feelings, Elsbach
says. "They may have opposed the NRA's views and they didn't
agree personally, nevertheless they did not 'disidentify' because
they had a more complex understanding."
life in a way, she notes. "The same process goes on in adolescence
with the groups of friends you make and the people you say you
don't like, and that clearly goes on into adulthood."
often leads to action, Elsbach says. "Some people said they
volunteered for groups against the NRA or boycotted companies
that supported the NRA, or they spoke out publicly," she
which were verified using a mail survey of more than 400 people,
were published in the August issue of Organization Science.
The NRA declined
to comment on the article.
are "relevant but only one part of a very complex, ongoing
process," says Gershen Kaufman, a psychology professor at
Michigan State University. "Identity is in flux from birth
until death. It is who I was, who I am, who I will be -- and it's
a historical concept, because it transcends past and future and
links both to a present self."
each person is different and "some people respond more to
positive identification while some respond more to negative identification,
and some balance the whole process out between the two. And identity
grows through defining who we are and who are not, who we are
like and who we are different from."
findings are interesting, are there any practical applications?
that organizations and companies are in a very competitive environment,"
Elsbach says. "They want their customers not to shop at their
competitors. Getting them to 'disidentify' could be very powerful."
Or we may
want to change social attitudes, she adds. "There's a large
area of advertising called social marketing -- such as the efforts
to label tobacco companies as uncaring. Understanding 'disidentification'
could be very helpful."
For more on
Washington State University. And for more on the development
of identity, check out
Reference Source 101